As Nate Diaz's UFC Contract Ends, Celebrate with His Top 5 Performances

Scott Harris@@ScottHarrisMMAFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 9, 2022

As Nate Diaz's UFC Contract Ends, Celebrate with His Top 5 Performances

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    Nate Diaz (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

    If you believe Nate Diaz, this weekend probably marks the final UFC fight for the anti-legend. It’s the last fight on his contract, and he’s openly keen to test the free-agent waters, exploring everything from a boxing match with Jake Paul to starting his own promotion.

    But first comes that farewell fight, and the UFC did him no favors in this department (perhaps because of the at-times acrimonious relationship between the two). In a rare five-round, non-title pay-per-view main event, Diaz faces undefeated Russian destroyer Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279 in Las Vegas.

    According to DraftKings, Diaz is a massive +700 underdog as of Thursday—pretty long odds, even for someone used to winning when he’s not supposed to.

    So to help ease Team Diaz through the Shawshank Redemption tunnel, we’ve compiled a list of Nate’s five best UFC performances from over the years. They’re ranked based on the quality of the fight, the manner of victory and the implications of each win. We’ve added video where available. As always, each list is set in stone. Definitely don’t sound off in the comments with any other choice. This is it, forever!

5. The Guillotine Falls on Melvin Guillard

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    Opponent: Melvin Guillard (24-7-2 [1 NC], 5-3 UFC)

    Event: UFC Fight Night 19, Oklahoma City

    Date: September 16, 2009

    Result: Diaz def. Guillard by submission (guillotine choke), 2:13, Rd. 2

    Was the hard-hitting, super-athletic Melvin Guillard finally putting it all together?

    Legal troubles and bridge-burning followed Guillard for much of his MMA career, which ended in 2019. He subsequently tried his hand at bareknuckle fighting but is only 2-6 in that game.

    But when he was firing on all cylinders, man, was he a good fighter. And heading into this bout with Diaz, he was on perhaps the best streak of his career.

    He was a winner in three straight and five of his last seven, and Guillard, then just 26 years old, had seemingly added more weapons to complement the lightning in his fists.

    Though early in the fight, it looked like the fists would be the only tool Guillard would need as he sent Diaz to the canvas with a right hand in the fight’s opening seconds. But Diaz regrouped and went to work with the jab, spreading his arms in that classic Diaz “come on!” gesture. Guillard obliged, and though Diaz out-landed him 21-11, Guillard had knocked down and bloodied Diaz, making it a close round. Both men landed takedowns—Guillard three, Diaz two—to set off ground exchanges, which is where Diaz really wanted to be. Diaz went for two submission attempts, though both went begging.

    In the second, it was the takedown that proved to be Guillard’s undoing, as he shot forward right into the waiting left arm of Diaz. They hit the ground, Diaz threw his leg over Guillard’s shoulder and squeezed. Guillard knew he was trapped and tapped.

    This one was replete with beautiful jiu-jitsu, violent firefights and a classic case of Diaz rallying back from adversity.

4. Nate Diaz Becomes Nate Diaz

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    Opponent: Kurt Pellegrino (12-3, 3-2 UFC)

    Event: UFC Fight Night 13, Broomfield, Colorado

    Date: April 2, 2008

    Result: Diaz def. Pellegrino by submission (triangle choke), 3:06, Rd. 2

    It’s the fight that put Nate on the map. Like the real map. The star map.

    “Batman” Pellegrino was a formidable grappler in his own right, with a BJJ black belt under revered trainer Marcelo Garcia. At the time, Pellegrino had eight pro submission wins to his name.

    Pellegrino was the better fighter in the first, wrestling Diaz and grinding him out against the fence to neutralize Diaz’s 4.5-inch reach advantage.

    That pressure continued in the second, with Pellegrino in clear control. About halfway through the second, though, we all got an introduction to the Diaz fighting instincts, the ones that never stop searching for an opening.

    Pellegrino lifted Diaz to dump him on the mat, but Diaz managed to wrap a leg around Pellegrino’s shoulder just before Pellegrino dropped him.

    When the dust cleared, they were both on the floor with Diaz having locked up a triangle choke. Knowing it was all the way cinched, Diaz raised his arms in celebration and shot the double bird to everyone and no one, Pellegrino struggling all the while. Pellegrino tapped soon thereafter. And a new anti-hero—more than just the Robin to another Batman: older brother, showman and OG anti-hero Nick Diaz—was born.

3. Quick Work in a Maynard Rematch

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    Opponent: Gray Maynard (11-2-1 [1 NC], 9-2-1 [1 NC] UFC)

    Event: The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale, Las Vegas

    Date: November 30, 2013

    Result: Nate Diaz def. Gray Maynard by TKO, 2:38, Rd. 1

    After dropping two straight, including one of the worst losses of his career in an embarrassing head-kick knockout loss to Josh Thomson, Diaz needed to bail out the boat.

    Gray Maynard was the perfect shovel, or pump, or whatever.

    Adding extra drama was the fact that these two had faced each other before. Maynard took a split decision in 2010, while an exhibition match on Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter ended in a guillotine choke win for Diaz.

    In the third contest, Diaz set the tone early, using those lanky, pawing straights to consistently touch Maynard and keep distance between himself and the stocky wrestler. (At 76 inches, Diaz had a six-inch reach advantage on Maynard.)

    Although Maynard did get the action to the mat for a time, Diaz was able to avoid damage and get back to his feet, which is where most of the action played out. Diaz outstruck Maynard 33-5 in the bout’s first and only stanza.

    At roughly the round’s halfway mark, Diaz wobbled Maynard with a counter left. Diaz charged forward. Swinging as hard as he could, he clobbered Maynard and forced him back against the fence, where Diaz went to work with uppercuts and clinch knees. Maynard tried to stagger away, but Diaz was white on rice, hammering him with rights and lefts from behind.

    In a testament both to Maynard’s toughness and Diaz’s well-documented lack of curtain-closing power, it took a while to get Maynard out of there. But finally, even as Maynard somehow stayed upright, referee Yves Lavigne stepped in to stop the punishment. As Diaz celebrated, in the background there was Maynard, who, freed from competitive expectations, collapsed on the canvas.

    This was a get-right win for Diaz and helps demonstrate the resilience he’s had throughout his career. Plenty of people say they embrace the underdog role. Walking it is another thing, and that’s what Nate did in this fight and at several other times in his career.

2. Tangling with the Cowboy

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    Opponent: Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (17-3 [1 NC], 4-0 UFC)

    Event: UFC 141, Las Vegas

    Date: December 30, 2011

    Result: Diaz def. Cerrone by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

    The run-up to this bout was a little chippy—and not in that semi-practiced way you sometimes see with a Diaz fight. During fight week, Cerrone tried to show Diaz respect, only to see it literally slapped away by a competitor not interested in making friends.

    But Cerrone didn’t worry too much about it, at least not on the outside. After all, he was on a six-fight win streak over the likes of Charles Oliveira and Dennis Siver. He was at -280 to handle the kid from Stockton. This was peak Cowboy. Look how young he looks in the video!

    This was also back when Diaz still got some boos, particularly against an opponent as popular as the aw-shucks, beer-swilling, adrenaline-chasing Cerrone. So, safe to say, plenty of momentum in Cowboy’s corner, with Diaz perceived by many as a malcontent who didn’t respect his elders, or something.

    The crowd certainly erupted when Cerrone planted his middle finger right in the middle of Diaz’s face just before the fight started, instead of engaging in the customary pre-fight glove touch.

    But Diaz had most of the say from there.

    He came out peppering Cerrone with the seeing-eye boxing combinations that would keep Cerrone guessing—and that characterized more and more of Diaz’s style moving forward. Cerrone simply couldn’t stand up to the volume and was bleeding after just one round.

    It continued on like that, and by Round 3, Cerrone was battered and tenderized like a cheap cutlet. Just as the final round started, Diaz returned Cerrone’s favor from the beginning of the bout by flipping two birds of his own. A beaten and bloody Cerrone could only nod.

    Eleven years later, the 238 significant strikes Diaz landed in this bout sit fourth all-time in the UFC—with all three above it extending into the championship rounds.

    This was the fight that showed Diaz could play in the big leagues. Before Cerrone, his signature win was likely the ever-inconsistent Guillard or possibly Marcus Davis. And to do so not only convincingly but with authority and with that outsized swagger intact is what established him as a true main-eventer. After this bout, three of his next four bouts were headliners. He was a star before, but this one made him an elite.

1. The Historical Shocking of Conor McGregor

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    Opponent: Conor McGregor (19-2, 7-0 UFC)

    Event: UFC 196, Las Vegas

    Date: March 5, 2016

    Result: Diaz def. McGregor by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:12, Rd. 2

    I imagine you’re not surprised.

    It would be hard not to evoke Diaz’s comment on the mic from right after he made himself a legend—a very wealthy legend—by defeating the one and only Conor McGregor at welterweight. It takes a special kind of alchemy to turn a fight into an event, to create true excitement, that kid-like excitement, among legions of fans. It’s hard to find that recipe, and it takes more than a little luck. But the older you get, the more you realize it’s even tougher to replicate. All the better, then, to savor a true classic like this one in 2016.

    It was McGregor’s welterweight debut and first fight since taking the featherweight title from Jose Aldo a few months prior. When McGregor’s original opponent, then-lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos, pulled out with an injury, Diaz was eventually selected as the replacement. No titles were on the line, and Diaz was a considerable +375 underdog, so it felt like a spectacle as much as it did a real fight. McGregor would win and then continue his quest for dual-champ status, or so we thought.

    That is all well-documented, though, perhaps even more than the fight itself.

    Fast-forward to the actual scrap, and McGregor pressed the action early, looking for a home for that fabled left hand. But Diaz stayed clear and pumped that familiar jab and fired kicks to keep the Irishman at range. McGregor still tagged him a few times, including with a left hook that opened a cut under Diaz’s eye. It was a close round, with McGregor holding edges in volume and damage.

    In the second, both men gave the crowd what it wanted: repeatedly trading heavy shots in the center of the cage. It wasn’t a brawl, but rather two craftsmen sniping each other down. This was not a defensive clinic.

    When the decisive left hand landed, it was from Diaz. A straight left wobbled McGregor, and while it didn’t lead to a knockout, it led to that familiar Diaz hyperaggression—attacking at the smell of blood. The fight wore on, but McGregor was never the same, and the crowd was now firmly behind the underdog. After an extended exchange, McGregor shot in for a takedown, but Diaz sprawled and a scramble ensued, which ended when a mounted McGregor gave up his back and Diaz reached in for the fight-ending choke.

    “I’m not surprised, motherf--kers,” Diaz said in the cage after the fight in what remains one of the most quotable post-fight comments ever.

    The rematch, wherein McGregor earned his revenge with a five-round decision, was a better fight and arguably an even bigger spectacle. UFC 202 reportedly set what was then a new UFC pay-per-view record with 1.65 million buys—edging out, you guessed it, Diaz-McGregor 1 by about 50,000.

    So while it may have been the more rewarding overall fight experience, the rematch doesn’t hold a candle to the raw emotion that accompanied Diaz’s shocker. This is easily, easily, the biggest and best win of Nate’s distinguished career, and it’s an all-time MMA classic any way you slice it.

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